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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Frank P. Davidson

Silhouette

By Russell B. Roberts

The idea of building a tunnel beneath the waters of the English Channel is one which has been debated back and forth between London and Paris for at least a century and a half. But up until a short while ago it seemed an attractive one only to imaginative men with eccentric illusions. Now it appears that after a long and somewhat comical history of failures and brief but unsuccessful forays under the sea, the tunnel may at last find its way from the Cliffs of Dover to the outskirts of Calais.

If such does become the case, one of the men most responsible for the realization of the scheme will be Frank P. Davidson '39, a New York lawyer and longtime entrepreneur in the field of staggering ideas.

Davidson, who is a rather modest and unassuming person, seems a little embarrassed by the sizeable proportions of some of his most successful efforts. But he has pursued his ideas with a dedicated fervor that could hardly be considered meek.

As an undergraduate he founded the "Quarterly Journal of Inter-American Relations" and "The Harvard Guardian," one of the more ambitious publications of the times which, though a casualty of the war, will be resurrected next fall under, as now seems likely the banner, "The Harvard Review," and with Davidson's active financial support. In his senior year, he edited "Before America Decides: Foresight in Foreign Affairs," which was published by Harvard University Press.

After graduating from the College, Davidson and several friends, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in an effort to balance out an education which they considered "too intellectual and urban." He developed "strong opinions" about improving the CCC and took them to President Roosevelt. At the age of 22, Davidson was appointed secretary of the President's Committee on the Civilian Conservation Corps, and became instrumental in establishing Camp William James, "a sort of CCC House Plan where people from all classes were brought together;" a similar camp in Mexico which rebuilt a village destroyed by an earthquake and which subsequently proved to be the origins of the Peace Corps; and the Volunteer Land Corps.

At the outbreak of World War II, Davidson joined the Canadian Army, eventually becoming commander of Camp T. F. Lawrence, a guerilla warfare unit. After the war he helped rebuild a Dutch town which had been destroyed in battle, led a troop of soldiers to England where they did land work on a British farm, and finally returned to Cambridge and Harvard Law School. A member of Phi Beta Kappa. Davidson has since been engaged in an international law practice and is, at the same time, President of Technical Studies, Inc., which owns twenty-five per cent of the international channel tunnel firm.

The tunnel project, Davidson admits, is a "Loch Ness monster of a scheme." But many of the incredible difficulties which the men who preceeded him in the effort faced with little success have already been overcome by Davidson and his Channel Tunnel Study Group. Judging at least from Davidson's earlier works, an underwater link between Europe and the British Isles seems inevitable. The English Channel, as Davidson says, "is an outdated stretch of water."

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